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TITLE I FORMULA LEAVES SCHOOL IN THE LURCH

by Nolan Stout

It’s tucked in the woods, down an old paved road.

The road leads to a roundabout that takes you to a parking lot with no painted lines. Sitting in solitude in the middle of the parking lot is an old basketball goal that leans dangerously, lazily forward.

Adjacent to the lot is the school. It seems small, but obscures the view of extra buildings in the back.

This is Northwood Elementary School, a few miles north of downtown High Point. It is a Title I school and is slowly losing funding.

Title I is a federal program that provides additional support to schools based on the number of students who live in poverty.

Nationally, the poverty line for a family of four is $24,250 of annual income.

The new formula for calculating Title I funding for schools in Guilford County will cause Northwood and other schools like it to lose money that is essential for teaching students that come from low-income homes, live in poverty, are homeless, or have other difficult circumstances that can hinder their education. Northwood is one of 58 Guilford County schools that have a poverty rate over 62.5 percent this school year. Of the 127 schools in Guilford County, 65 qualified for Title I funding.

Much of the money from Title I goes to reducing class sizes. To do this, schools hire more teachers, or literacy and math specialists that focus on students that need extra help. Losing this funding means less teachers, less specialists, and larger class sizes.

Tanya Rodriguez is a young reading specialist in her fifth year at Northwood. Her position is one that could be cut with less Title I funding. When asked about losing funding, she began to cry.

“[Without Title I funding] it would mean losing me and losing a lot of my coworkers,” said Rodriguez, tearing up. “It’s hard sometimes for me to find the words.”

“I can’t imagine what we would do, in the situation we are in now, if we did not have Title I funds,” said Liz Samuels, a student advocate.

Northwood is known now as a Title I school, but it was not always this way. When High Point had a bustling economy, it was the school for children of furniture and textile executives”” the backbone of High Point’s economy.

“All of the ‘well-to do’ families children went to this school,” said Samuels. “It is totally reversed since I taught here 35 years ago.”

Now the halls are filled with children of single parent homes, homes that do not speak English, and some do not even have homes.

These students have an enormous amount of challenges at home and do not come in with the foundation for learning that higher income students might have. Instead of going to museums or learning at home, parents are more concerned with putting food on the table.

“We have grouped schools into what is called poverty bands,” said Melissa Nixon, Guilford County’s Title I Director.

In poverty bands, the schools with a higher percentage of low-income students will receive a higher per student allocation. This means that a school with 80-percent low-income will receive more money per student than a school that is 50-percent low-income, regardless of school size. In the past, there was a fixed per student allocation and money was distributed based on the number of students that qualified as low-income. This year, there are multiple per student allocations, not just one.

The old formula for calculating Title I funding relied on the percentage of children that applied for and received free and reduced lunch at schools. The new formula uses the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which calculates the number of students that have already been identified by federal and state agencies as low-income. This automatically includes children that have been identified as homeless, part of a migrant family, or living in foster care in the calculation of poverty rates at schools. These changes will affect schools for the 2015-16 school year.

The previous threshold for qualifying as Title I was 56-percent poverty rate at the school. The new formula sets the rate at 42.3-percent. Logic would make it seem that would increase the number of schools that qualified as Title I within such a big district. However, the number of qualifying schools fell from 67 to 65 schools.

In comparison, Chatham County, Southeast of Greensboro, which has 17 schools, set its poverty rate at 40-percent and had ten schools qualify for some sort of Title I funding.

“It’s a completely different data set,” said Nixon. “There’s not really a direct correlation you can draw.”

Using the CEP data has dropped the poverty rate at some schools throughout the county. The drop has affected schools like Northwood. In the old formula, the poverty level was around 90-percent. Now, it is at 66-percent of the 650 students enrolled.

So, if the poverty rate for these schools is lower, why has the poverty rate for the county increased? Guilford County released that the percentage of child poverty in its schools has risen to 67 percent as opposed to 59 percent last year.

This year the county is planning for $8 million to be distributed to Title I schools. This is a substantial drop from the past school year which had $13 million for Title I schools.

Northwood has been slowly receiving less money year after year, as have most schools in the county. This year, the school received $180,000 in Title I funding, as opposed to $260,000 last year, according to Principal Scott Winslow.

“I don’t know that was based on a change in the way it was figured,” said Winslow. “Where our percentage has stayed about the same, we’ve had a drop every year I’ve been here.”

What has yet to be determined is how this new formula is better.

“The question is””what exactly is not working with Title I? Why did we change the formula? What wasn’t working? How is doing it this way going to make it better? How is this then going to affect the future?” said Cathy Jarrett, a curriculum facilitator at Northwood.

Title I money does help schools with large numbers of low-income students, but there is a bigger issue that affects Title I schools and low-income students even more””poverty.

“There are still things that shock me, that I’m horrified that I might hear about a child’s situation,” said Samuels.

These issues stem from poverty. The stories that educators and administrators hear from children are heart wrenching. Jarrett is a curriculum facilitator in her seventh year at Northwood. She knows countless stories of the difficulties these students face. She recently had a conversation with a student and this is what she recalled:

“I asked him why he was here and he said ‘do you know I wet the bed?’ and I said no I didn’t but thank you for telling me that. He said ‘my stepmother’s really mad and she spanked me because I wet the bed. I told him ‘you’re not responsible for that while you’re sleeping, but I want to talk to you about hitting. You can’t hit.’ “He said ‘you know my mother worked at Burger King, this is like every day I hear these stories, and somebody spit on her, so my mom punched her face in and she got fired.’ “So now, where’s mom? In jail. Do you know when mom’s going to get out? ‘I don’t think it’s going to be this birthday or the next.’ “So now he gets uprooted, goes to live with dad and stepmom. Stepmom is spanking him for wetting the bed.

“What chance does this kid have?” said Jarrett.

Educators have to confront situations like this daily at a Title I school.

This is compounded with other hardships that North Carolina’s teacher have had to face in Jarrett’s time as an educator””teachers are no longer given a bonus for exceeding goals, teachers are no longer given higher salaries for having a masters, teachers no longer get longevity, they almost lost tenure in Guilford County; and now Title I funding is threatened. In 34 years, Jarrett is actually being paid less, when adjusted for inflation, than when she began teaching, Title I has been helping to get these children educated in the hopes that they will have a better life, but it is just addressing an aspect of the real problem. Jarrett knows what North Carolina needs to focus on.

“There was Mufasa. She was going to the river with her family and they were washing their clothes in the river and they saw a baby go by in a basket. So someone ran out and grabbed the baby out of the water and brought her back.

“Well then a few minutes later here comes another baby out and they grab the baby. Before they know it, all these babies are coming down the river and they can’t get them out of the water fast enough and some are going over the waterfall. So all of the sudden they turn around and Mufasa’s not there. They said ‘where are you Mufasa?’ and they look and Mufasa is halfway up the mountain and she said ‘I’m going to find out who’s putting these babies in the water.’ “I want to find out who is putting the babies in the water. We’re just pulling out the baskets,” said Jarrett. “So with Title I, I want to go to the top of the mountain and find out how they’re putting that baby in the water. If we went to the top of the mountain, the top of the mountain is poverty. That’s the top of the mountain. So, how do we help the parents find jobs? We need to address poverty.” !

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